26th Sunday C 9/29/19Amos6;1Tim6;Lk16:19-31 E 4, 10, 12 J MayzikSJ
I woke up one morning this past summer and had a little trouble focusing my eyes, even after I got my trusty glasses on. It was like intermittent blurriness, and for a few moments I had to keep blinking, closing one eye, then the other, until it finally cleared up. It just happened that I was going to my eye doctor that day because my glass frame was broken and I needed new glasses. He checked my eyes with all the latest equipment, and said that everything was fine. “Sometimes,” he said, “older eyes need a little time to get ready for the day when you wake up. It’s like an old car—you’ve got to let it warm up before you drive.” I didn’t like being compared to anything old, especially a car, and I like my car and my eyes to be ready to go as soon as I turn on the ignition. But these eyes have seen a lot, and they have been good to me, and I hope to see a lot more with them, so I try to take care of them.
For me, loss of sight would be more challenging than if it happened with any of the other senses. I could deal with loss of smell, taste, touch…and being deaf would be tough, but being blind? I’m sure I’d be yelling at God a lot. To not be able to see the faces of the people I love, the awesomeness of towering mountains, rolling seas, fiery fall foliage, the world transformed with a blanket of snow, movies(!), the afternoon light gently spilling upon the windowsill, dogs and their wet noses, the blue blue sky, mighty New York skyscrapers, the spontaneous smile of a child, a spider’s magnificent web, Christmas lights…wow, it would be hard. And having a morning’s moment where I was having trouble focusing, well, it definitely was a little scary.
And yet even though I have gotten a good bill of health from the eye doctor, sometimes I wonder if my focus isn’t always so clear. I think I do miss things that I should have been able to see. Maybe it is old eyes that are the problem. Almost every day in the kingdom of my life I fail to see things that are all around me, most especially the unpleasant things. But when I walk through a day with a child, she sees for me what I miss.
There’s the story of Lazarus, sitting with open sores and open hands in the gutter. Jesus tells us how the rich man passed him every day and never noticed him, until of course when he dies he sees Lazarus in heaven, while he suffers in the hell of his own making.
Children with young eyes never miss seeing Lazarus in the gutter, and they never let us ignore them as we often do. The hearts of children love more easily, and they break more mightily as well, and they teach us more purely the lesson that Jesus meant for us to learn in this lovely story of Lazarus. Unlike the rich man, maybe Jesus wants us really see the world as it really is before it is too late: trade out our old, tired, fear-filled eyes and heart for something younger, more revealing.
That image of Lazarus. You and I see it every day, don’t we? All along our streets, sometimes in front of our church. Our tired eyes often have trouble seeing him from the high seats of our SUV’s, even if we almost trip over his body on the sidewalk.
And most of us can’t see how our blindness contributes to his existence all over the world. You’ve heard the statistics. We live in a nation that has 5% of the world’s population, but we consume 25% of the world’s resources. Because we are almost brainwashed into believing that we need more and more, we fail to see how our desires are keeping our brothers and sisters in faraway lands living on pennies a day. The corporate head of Gap and Banana Republic make at least a cool $2 million each year. A woman in El Salvador who makes his clothes for us to wear makes 56 cents an hour.
We have good intentions, for sure, and there are many who devote themselves to helping the lives of their brothers and sisters here and now who suffer like Lazarus. But many of us still have trouble seeing. It’s not about our eyes, of course, it is about our hearts. It is our hearts that Jesus wants to touch. It is our hearts that Jesus wants to convert before it is too late. We need to look up from amidst our own wealth, look up and around like little children, we need to focus on Lazarus, lest God’s justice take us, and send us forever and ever into the darkness of the night of our own making.
A few weeks ago, just before the start of a new school year as I was sitting on a bench in the northern part of Central Park, I came across a small drama and a wonderful revelation. Several young boys were playing together nearby. I didn’t pay much attention to them at first, but I began to take interest when an apparent dispute had arisen. One of the boys was clearly the alpha, taking charge of the whole group, issuing the rules of play, and directing the team’s activity. I didn’t see what happened to provoke him, but he very bluntly and directly expelled one of the kids from the game, and got everyone else to shun him as well.
I watched the little kid stand to the side, looking very alone and small. At first I couldn’t tell how he was taking it, until he turned his face away from the field, and I could see the tears silently streaming down his cheeks. I kind of wanted to go over to him and say something, but I was either too timid or too worried about how that would look, and so I just sat there and tried to look away. He’ll get over it, I thought. It’s just what happens to kids.
But then I heard a voice, coming from a bench some feet away. “Come here, son”. From the angle I was looking at him I could see he was an older man, white hair, dressed in street clothes. The boy hesitated a moment, wiping his eyes. “Just for a second, please”, said the man again. The boy walked over to him slowly, and he stopped right in front of him. I couldn’t hear what the man was saying to him, but I carefully watched the boy—partly being a little protective, in case the guy was a nut or something worse. The boy listened to him, intently, nodded a few times, and then moved a step closer to the man. I saw his elderly hand reach out and pat the boy’s head, and then wave him away.
The little boy had a small smile on his face, and said something to the man, turned and walked back to where the other boys were playing. He stood there for a few more minutes, and when the game appeared to end, two of the boys went over and joined him. I guessed that they felt badly about how their friend was ejected from the game. In a few minutes they all left together, taking their players cries and shouts with them, leaving the park to the sound of birds, and the distant din of the city.
I was about to leave myself, when I saw the elderly man get up off his bench. He stood for a moment, and grabbed something out of the inner pocket of his jacket. He unfurled it, and I saw that it was one of those collapsible poles. I watched the old blind man negotiate the sidewalk, feeling the ground just ahead of his steps with the pole. He wandered away from me, and from the park.
I stayed a few more minutes, reflecting on how a blind man had somehow ‘seen’ the sadness of a little boy in the park, and how he had done what he could to remind him that he was loved. I had no doubt in my mind that he would join Lazarus when the time came to be called home by God.